It’s a common enough statement: “I’m desperate to get started, but I need an idea!” I’ll say this now: you don’t need to cast any magic spells. Like most skills, it just takes a bit of practise.
1. Take Notes Everywhere
Start by carrying a small notebook and pen with you, wherever you go. This is to write down your ideas and thoughts. I’ve tried doing this on my smartphone, but find that the low typing speed and difficultly in writing a stream-of-consciousness mind-dump gets in the way.
The basic concept is simple: if you have an idea, write it down; if something makes your life difficult, make a note; and if you see something that you really like, write about it and what you liked so much. In short: get used to writing small notes throughout the day.
2. Pain Points That Affect You
If you’re suffering, chances are that somebody else is suffering from the same issue. The beauty is that because you’re personally experiencing it, you have the knowledge to think about what can be done to solve your issue.
It’s not always easy; my biggest issue on a day-to-day basis is dealing with the bureaucracy here in Poland, with requirements apparently changing on an hourly basis. Short of committing outright fraud, I struggle to think of decent solutions that don’t involved a change of government.
But back when I was developing Facebook applications, I had a problem that affected me on a daily basis: how to test interactions between multiple users. Thankfully, Facebook offered a feature called Test Users, albeit without a decent front-end (this has now been fixed). As a temporary measure, I created FasterDev, and added in a few other tools that I found useful.
3. Using Your Friends And Family
A great use of Facebook is to go through your friends and family, look up where they’re currently working, and start asking questions about how you could make their lives better. This way you already have a friendly connection, with none of the worries that come with formal introductions… although this could be an issue personal to me 😉
Even going out socializing during the middle of the week can be a great source of ideas. Listening to what your friends complain about – and the services they compliment – can be a great source of inspiration.
If you decide to develop an idea into a minimum viable product, you already have your first customers lined up – although make sure that you’ve made it clear you’ll be charging from day one!
4. Seeking Inspiration From Idea Lists
Y Combinator have a couple of really great lists stating ideas they’d like to fund. Have a look down and see if anything grabs your attention. Jacques Mattheij also often publishes some brilliant “Idea dumps.” Here’s one from last year, an ideas dump from February, and another one from March.
5. Imitation Is The Sincerest Form Of Flattery!
Is there a service you really like using? Or one that you’re really excited about? The fact that they’re trading is usually a good sign that there’s money in that space. Why not sit down, write a list of features that you like and don’t like, and think about how to create a competitor that will rock at the features you like?
But What To Choose?
So, you’ve settled down on an idea… but now you’re troubles are only beginning. Is there a market for your project? How will you gain your first paying customers? And once you’ve done that, how will you get more people to hand over their hard-earned money? What will be the cost of acquiring those customers?
Whilst it’s tempting to dive in and start coding straight away, it is of vital importance that you have answers to the above questions before you begin; there’s no point wasting your time building something you have no idea how to market (and I’ve made this mistake far too often).
If you have people offering to give you money before you’ve even written a single line of code – or registered a domain for that matter – you’re on the road to success.